Category Archives: Air transportation

Should airport security be centralized or at the gate?

At most airports, there is a central security at front of the terminal, and then you proceed to your gate, having cleared security. At Schiphol in the Netherlands, security is instead at the departure gate. The metal detectors are fixed, but the security agents move around to the flight that will be soon taking off.

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This makes it more painful to change planes, but ensures that the plane won’t take off while there are passengers in the security line for that particular flight. It also ensures that the flight itself is secure, though someone might have snuck through another airport with less rigorous security. It also gives waiting passengers something to do, without having to be nervous about getting to the gate on-time.

I always thought this was an intentional design feature, which just had not been replicated at other airports due to the fixed costs of creating more controlled waiting environments, but it turns out to be considered more of a bug, since the European Investment Bank is lending Schiphol EUR 200 million to remodel the airport to make it more typical.

Els de Groot, Chief Financial Officer of Schiphol Group said “We welcome the EIB’s continued support for our airport investments, following successful funding by the EIB in the last decade of other important Schiphol projects including the fifth runway and the 70 MB baggage system programme. To remain Europe’s preferred airport we will invest an additional EUR 500 million in the coming years. An important part of this is directly related to creation of a central security facility for the entire terminal. Gate security checks for flights to non-Schengen destinations will disappear and be replaced by five central security filters. This will both improve passenger comfort and significantly enhance the efficiency of the passenger handling process for both the airport and airlines”.

Why must I travel, why can’t I tele-conference

Two times in two days last week I was asked to fly to an east coast city for a half-day meeting. The meeting organizers offered to pay my travel expenses. I asked to save the travel money and tele-conference in via some/any web-based video technology. The organizers declined, saying they weren’t set up to do that.

Seriously, you can pay more than a $1000 to bring me in considering airline tickets, hotel, ground transportation, and meals, but you can’t get your act together to have a room with wireline internet, a camera enabled laptop (aren’t they all now), and Skype or FaceTime or Google Hangouts or any of a hundred other services at a marginal monetary outlay of zero and a time outlay of damn close to that?

I hypothesize one source of the problem is the technological backwardness of the governmental/consulting/advocacy/transportation sector. This is a process of mutual causation. Technological backwardness deters the technologically advanced from entering the sector, reinforcing the backwardness. It’s a wonder there are PCs on people’s desks. It’s no wonder we see no progress. I fully anticipate major changes to the transportation sector to come from outside actors, much like the Google self-driving vehicle because of this innovation aversion.

The second source of the problem might be incentives. I hypothesize the meeting organizers budgeted for travel, and not for information technology. They have no incentive not to spend the budget, the money has to get spent.

The third source of the problem is also incentives. My travel time costs them nothing. My video conferencing takes them a few minutes. No matter their few minutes are a lot less time than my travel, they (not me) are spending it.

I realize video-conferences are not quite as high a resolution in audio or video as being present, and in the hands of the incompetent have meeting-disruptive technical difficulties. But they are good enough for the purposes of this kind of conversation, for which conference calls are often used.

It is not that I object to spending your money, or actually want to save you money. I am not noble in this regard. It is that travel is a major hassle, filled with danger and uncertainty. This is often not worth it for me anymore especially for a less than one-day meeting in a city I have seen plenty of times where

I am doing you a favor by being present (you asked me to attend, not vice versa). Moreover, I don’t want to eat another dinner at an east coast airport.

Update: Bill Lindeke suggests: @trnsprttnst perhaps transportation scholars are inherently biased towards transporting things/people

How a chance encounter in St. Paul almost prevented World War II

Cross-posted from streets.mn How a chance encounter in St. Paul almost prevented World War II :

“While staying in St. Paul, Minnesota, Zeppelin encountered a fellow German who had served for the Union inflating a hot-air balloon. It was here Count Zeppelin first went airborne in 1863. The rest, as the say, is history.”

How a chance encounter in St. Paul almost prevented World War II

The first manned flight may have been in 559, when the Emporer’s son, Yuan Huangtou of Ye, China was forcibly strapped to a kite and set airborne from a tower. Yuan Huangtou was later executed, and this experiment did not lead to any follow-on.

The French Montgolfier Brothers designed and took off in a hot-air balloon in 1783 (with others), which is credited as the first manned free-flight. In 1891, German Otto Lilienthal flew in a glider. By 1898, internal combustion engines were powering airships (dirigibles) designed and flown by Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont. Numerous other pioneers made attempts. Two bicycle mechanics, better known as the Wright Brothers then changed the world in 1903.

The history of flight passed briefly through Minnesota on a couple of occasions. Charles Lindbergh grew up near Little Falls, Minnesota. He of course was a leader in the Nazi-sympathizing America First pacifist movement. This was not helpful in the War effort.

However, the relationship of Minnesota and Germany and aviation has another interaction.

Coming to the US as an observer to the American Civil War representing Wurttemberg (Germany was not yet unified), Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin decided to explore the North American frontier (See Botting (2001) for discussion of the history of the Zeppelin Company). While staying in St. Paul, Minnesota, Zeppelin encountered a fellow German who had served for the Union inflating a hot-air balloon. It was here Count Zeppelin first went airborne in 1863. The rest, as the say, is history.

Almost half a century later (1909), the Zeppelin Company he founded was facing financial difficulties selling airships to the German military, and decided to start an airline (DELAG). While it was not at first as successful in organizing regular service, it did provide some (with logistical support from the Hamburg-Amerika steamship lines), marking the first commercial airline.

By 1914, DELAG had made over 2,000 flights, totaling 100,000 miles (160,000 km), carrying 34,028 passengers. World War I changed the nature of airship use, and the German military’s interest. By war’s end, almost 100 airships had been used for the German army and navy, and more than half were lost, indicating lower success than hoped for, and significantly underperforming airplanes. Still, the Americans showed some interest, and after the War, the US Navy ordered some airships from the Zeppelin Company as part of reparations payments, to the anger of some Germans, who disapproved of the technology transfer. An assassin skulked Dr. Hugo Eckener, famous dirigible pilot and the manager of the Zeppelin Company.

 

Hugo Eckener, Dirigible pilot, Nazi fighterEckener was so prominent in post World War I Germany he almost stood for President against Hitler. But stepped aside when President and war hero Count von Hindenberg chose to run again. Had the anti-Nazi Eckener run (and won of course), he may have proven himself far more competent and avoided the subsequent rise of Hitler altogether.

 

So St. Paul gave Count Zeppelin his first balloon flight and infected him with the aviation bug. Zeppelin gave Eckener his position with the company and the opportunity to become nationally regarded, and Eckener may have stopped the rise of Hitler.

Post-script:

Prior to the 1938 LZ 129 Hindenberg (named for the Count) disaster in Lakehurst, New Jersey, no passenger had died due to a crash of a Zeppelin airship. Transatlantic Airship travel was not doomed due to this one well-publicized crash, but rather to the rise of Pan American Airways flights, which were much faster, though less comfortable. Though there was an attempt to convert future airships (such as the LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II) to Helium rather than Hydrogen, the US government withheld Helium supplies under the 1937 Neutrality Act.

Adapted in part from The Transportation Experience, 2nd Edition.

 

John Silva, Maker of ‘Telecopter’ Camera, Dies at 92

NYT Reports: John Silva, Maker of ‘Telecopter’ Camera, Dies at 92 :

“Helicopter news footage is common today. But until myriad problems in sending live pictures from a moving aircraft were solved, television broadcasters could not show an eagle’s-eye view of a forest fire, or contemplate aerial coverage of, say, a famous man fleeing the police in a white Ford Bronco.
John Silva made that now-familiar vantage possible in 1958, when he converted a small helicopter into the first airborne virtual television studio.”

Autonomous civil aircraft could be flying before cars go driverless

The Economist on Pilotless aircraft: This is your ground pilot speaking :

“Progress is being made, a conference in London heard this week. It was organised by the Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment (ASTRAEA), the group staging the British test flights. This £62m ($99m) programme, backed by the British government, involves seven European aerospace companies: AOS, BAE Systems, Cassidian, Cobham, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce and Thales.
It is potentially a huge new market. America’s aviation regulators have been asked by Congress to integrate unmanned aircraft into the air-traffic control system as early as 2015. Some small drones are already used in commercial applications, such as aerial photography, but in most countries they are confined to flying within sight of their ground pilot, much like radio-controlled model aircraft. Bigger aircraft would be capable of flying farther and doing a lot more things.
Pilotless aircraft could carry out many jobs at a lower cost than manned aircraft and helicopters—tasks such as traffic monitoring, border patrols, police surveillance and checking power lines. They could also operate in conditions that are dangerous for pilots, including monitoring forest fires or nuclear-power accidents. And they could fly extended missions for search and rescue, environmental monitoring or even provide temporary airborne Wi-Fi and mobile-phone services. Some analysts think the global civilian market for unmanned aircraft and services could be worth more than $50 billion by 2020.”

Airport air makes you free

Stadtluft macht frei – urban air makes you free. If you were a German in the Middle Ages, and you somehow got inside the city gates for a year and a day, you would be a free citizen, and no longer a serf.
The modern equivalent of the city is the airport.
If I can get through the secure gates, I can go anywhere in airport-land, a highly dis-contiguous place where all travel is by airplane. I can stay in the airport I have entered and have the full gamut of services my credit card can pay for.
If I can get a ticket (now deliverable wirelessly), I can travel to any airport in the United States and stay there, or to any place else in the world, where I will be forced through local customs. I may even be stuck there.
Inside the airport I have freedom from fear, as the security will ensure nothing bad can happen. The airport is probably the safest place from other non-governmentally employed citizens. I no longer need pass through security, so my dehumanization is over. I am liberated.
And of course, food eaten at the airport has no calories.

Fewer travelers take off from MSP

Adam Belz @ StarTribune interviewed me about: Fewer travelers take off from MSP :

USDomesticEnplanements“Air travel was hurt by the April spike in fuel prices, said David Levinson, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies.
‘The price of fuel is certainly very volatile, and that doesn’t necessarily say something about the broader economy,’ Levinson said. ‘The sensitivity of enplanements is in part due to the airfares that are charged.’”

Domestic aviation is another sector that has matured and is likely near if not at peak. MSP’s position is not helped by the Delta near-monopoly in lots of markets, but at least we have a hub and direct flights.

Linklist: May 8, 2012

Strib: No-frills air carrier is filling in gaps :

“Meet Great Lakes, a no-frills newcomer that believes there’s a lucrative opportunity in connecting rural America with bustling airports like MSP. The Wyoming-based airline is in the midst of adding more than a dozen new cities to its local roster, with the Twin Cities serving as its hub for 20 percent of its destinations.”

It provides “essential air services” with big government subsidy.

The frequent fliers who flew too much – Los Angeles Times. Matt Yglesias writes:

Back in 1981, American Airlines needed cash. Interest rates were sky high, so rather than borrowing the money, they hit upon a weird idea: sell lifetime passes good for unlimited first-class air travel for $250,000. Add a companion pass for $150,000 more. The resulting program, the AAirpass, turned out to be a huge disaster brilliantly chronicled over the weekend in the Los Angeles Times. Losing millions of dollars a year on its highest-use members, American has in recent years been employing investigators to try to find instances of rule violations that let them cancel members’ passes.
I absolutely love this story because it illustrates so much about the business and economics worlds. It highlights the fact that there are a lot of ways to engage in “hidden borrowing” and that this kind of hidden leverage is often very costly. It illustrates the importance of avoiding adverse selection if you want to succeed. And most of all, it illustrates that over and above the structural issues facing the notably unprofitable U.S. aviation industry there also seems to be a problem of systematic mismanagement and repeated blunders.

Amtrak to Use iPhones to Streamline Service – NYTimes.com:

“Old-school train conductors are finally ready to give up their hole punchers to try something new: the iPhone.
Amtrak, the government-owned corporation that oversees the nation’s railroad train services, has been training conductors since November to use the Apple handset as an electronic ticket scanner on a few routes, including from Boston to Portland, Me., and San Jose, Calif., to Sacramento.”

Ars: Google gets license to test drive autonomous cars on Nevada roads:

“On Monday, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles approved Google’s license application to test autonomous vehicles on the state’s roads. The state had approved such laws back in February, and has now begun issuing licenses based on those regulations.
The state previously outlined that companies that want to test such vehicles will need an insurance bond of $1 million and must provide detailed outlines of where they plan to test it and under what conditions. Further, the car must have two people in it at all times, with one behind the wheel who can take control of the vehicle if needed.
The Autonomous Review Committee of the Nevada DMV is supervising the first licensing procedure and has now approved corresponding plates to go with it, complete with a red background and infinity symbol.”

The Prospect Park Newsletter sends me to Pete LeBak … :

“Pete LeBak’s barber shop is a neighborhood institution in Prospect Park.  He’s been here over 31 years.  Light rail is going in on University Ave. now, and the work has wiped out the parking in front. Access is daunting folks; traffic has slowed to a trickle. So business has cratered.  By the way, that’s ‘Bug’ (short for Ladybug) on the floor in her usual posture. She’s about 110 in dog years.  Neighbors and friends are trying to get Pete some press and spread the word to help him make it through the construction gauntlet.  Pete was fixing to move out, but he thought back on the 31 years he’d been there, all the friends he’d made, and it got his back up.  Longtime customers stopped by to beg him not to go. So now he’s fighting to stay.  We’re rallying the troops.”

[the external cost of transportation construction is non-trivial]

Linklist: May 7, 2012

Reason says: New Light Rail Ridership Falls Short by More Than Half:

“Los Angeles’ brand new $930 million Exposition light rail line is carrying so few riders and bringing in so little revenue that it will, at best, take 65 years for the train to earn back its capital investment (not including ongoing operating costs). If the project completes its next phase and establishes an at-grade train that runs through heavy street traffic from Downtown L.A. to the city of Santa Monica, it will not pay for its construction for 170 years. “

Daniel Teridman @ CNET: Hindenburg disaster 75 years ago abruptly ended zeppelin era:

“Yet the Hindenburg accident, as dramatic as it was, only put a sudden exclamation point on the already seemingly inevitable end of the era of the great zeppelins. In the years leading up to World War II, airplanes were already beginning to supplant the giant airships as a much more efficient and economical way to cross oceans.”

KurzweilAI: Robot cars get ready to roll:

“Manufacturers such as Ford have announced that autonomous vehicles are the future. Bill Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company, recently said that the company sees ‘the introduction of semi-autonomous driving technology, including driver-initiated ‘auto pilot’ capabilities, and vehicle platooning in limited situations’ as early as 2017.
In the longer term, from 2025 onwards he believes we will see the ‘arrival of smart vehicles capable of fully autonomous navigation, with increased ‘auto pilot’ operating duration, plus the arrival of autonomous valet functions, delivering effortless vehicle parking and storage.’”

Linklist: April 25, 2012

Via Daring Fireball, @ the I love typography, the typography and fonts blog The design of a signage typeface

Brad Plumer @ WaPo on airline deregulation: Should we worry about cities abandoned by airlines?

Brendon @ streets.mn: Why urbanists (and others) should love the coming of the robot car (Part 1)

Behind the Big Wheel Special Event On Thursday, April 26!:

“Drivers of large vehicles and bicyclists share the road every day but rarely get an opportunity to see the road through each others eyes.
In this special demonstration event, bicyclists & pedestrians will be able to get behind the wheel of a big rig or bus, sit in the driver’s seat, and check blind spots while bikes & pedestrians walk in the street below.
“Share the Road” safety information will be available to all participants.
Thanks in advance for helping us make the University of Minnesota campus a safer place for all!
If you have any questions about the event, please email biking@umn.edu..”

Reihan Salam @ The Agenda on National Review OnlineA Few Thoughts on Sorting and Agglomeration